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1 162912 

I -^^^T^^' LENPX AND 
■iLOtN r.-..^. ,^,^D 



Entered, according to Act o^ Congress, in 18< 

in the Clerk's Office of the District Conrt of 
U. S., for the Northern District of New Yorit 

Stereotyped by Redfield A Savage, 
13 Cbamben Street, N. T. 




TdDIffI!® Misn 




»» lElesjiecttttlls 




JoEOf Qumcr ADAXt, tlM writer of the foUowing 
Letters, is widely known m one of the poreat nd 
most eminent men of oar a^e. Bora in 1707, dtnfaf 
the fierce and absorbing discuaaionf of the rlgkto 
and responsibilities of rulers which heralded our 
Rerolution and war of Independence, he entered 
his country's serrice, while yet a mere lad, as seci^ 
tary to the Russian embassy, and remained throogh 
life, with few and brief intermissions, a pubUe ser> 
vant, filling successively tiie posts of secretary, em- 
bassador, United States senator, negotiator of die 
last treaty of peace with Great Britain, seeretaiy of 
state, president, and finally representaChre in Con- 
gress, wiiich station he filled firom 1831 to tfie hour 
of his death, which took place in tfie Ctt^tol, Febnip 
■ry 93; 1848, he having been stricken down wifli 


paralyds, while in the act of rising to address the 
house, two days before; having lived more than 
eighty years, and passed nearly or qtiite three 
foorthfl of his days in public stations. Though nat- 
urally reserved and diffident in manner, and never 
in the obvioua sense a popular man — for his life 
was devoted to serving rather than pleasing his 
ooimtryinen — he waa profoundly and generally es- 
teemed for hit fearless conscientiouflnesa, his ardent 
patriotism, his vast and various acquirements, and 
his un&ltering deivotion to hunoan freedom. The 
fiineral honors paid to his naemory have had no 
parallel in this eountry, except in the case of W^sh- 
tngton. Those who had seen fit to oppose his elec- 
tion and to defeat his re-election as president, and 
to whom he had generally stood <^po8ed in party 
diCferences, seemed to vie with his warmest sup- 
porters in rendering homage to his memory. 

The following letters were written by Mr. Adams, 
while embassador at St Fetersburgh, to one of his 
aons» who was at school in Massachusetts. Their 
pdurpose is the inculcation of a love and reverence 
for the Holy Scriptures, and a delight in tfieir pe- 

• "'-' 


nual and study. Throughout his long life, Mr. Ad- 
■ma was himself a daily and deront readef of tfie 
Scriptures, and delighted in comparing and camid- 
ering them in the rarious languagea with wmch ha 
was familiar, hoping Uiereby to aoqoire a nicer and 
clearer appreciation of their meaning. The Bible 
was emphatically his cocmsel and monitor throng^ 
life, and tiie firuits of its goidanee are seen In the 
unsullied character which he bore through the tor- 
bid waters of political contention to his final earUily 
rest Though long and fiercely opposed and con- 
tenmed in life, he left no man* behind him who 
would wish to^x a stain on the name he has In- 
scribed so high on the roll of his country's moat 
gifted and illustrious sons. 

The intrinsic value of these letters, their fiuniliar 
and lucid style, their profound and comprehensife 
yiews, ihelr candid and reverent spirit^ must win 
for them a large measure of the public attention and 
esteem. But, apart from even this, the testimony 
so unconsciously bone by their pure-minded and 
profoundly learned author to the truth and excel- 
lence of the Christian fidth and records^ win not be 


lightly regarded. It is no slight testimonial to the 
veri^ and worth of Christianity, that in all ages 
since its promulgation, the great mass of those who 
have risen to eminence by their profonnd wisdom, 
integrity, and i^iilanthropy, have recognised and 
xoTerenced in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of the 
living CUmL To the names of Augustine, Xavier, 
Fenelon, Milton, Newt(»i, Locke, Lavater, Howard, 
Chateaubriand, and their thousands of compeers in 
Christian faith, among the world's wisest and no- 
blest, it is not without pride that the American may 
4tdd, from among his countrymen, those of such 
men as WAsmmoTOPr, Jay, Patbxck Ujbk&t, and 
John Quxkcy Adams. 



St. Pbtxbabubo, Sept^ 1811. 

My Dear Son : In your letter of the 
18th January to your mother, you men- 
tioned that you read to your aunt a chap- 
ter in the Bible or a section of Dod- 
dridge^s Annotations every evening. This 
Information gave me real pleasure ; for so 
great is my veneration for the Bible, and 
so strong my belief^ that when duly read 
juod meditated on, it is of all books in the 
world, that which contributes most to 
make men good, wise, and happy — ^that 
the earlier my children begin to read it, 
the more irteadily they pursue the prac- 


tice of reading it tlironghont their lives 
the more lively and confident will be m] 
hopes that they will prove useful citi- 
zens to their country, respectable mem 
hers of society, and a real blessing U 
their parents. But I hope you have no^ 
arrived at an age to understand that read 
ing, even in the Bible, is a thing in itself 
neither good nor bad, but that all th( 
good which can be drawn from it, is b} 
the use and improvement of what yoi 
have read, with the help of your owi 
reflecticm. Young people sometimei 
boast of how many books, and how mucl 
they have read ; when, instead of boast 
ing, they ought to be ashamed of having 
wasted so much time, to so little profit. 
I advise you, my son, in whatever yoi 
read, and most of all in reading the Bi 
ble, to remember that it is for the pur- 
pose of making you wiser and more vir- 
tuous. I have myself, for many years 



made it a practice to read tlirough the 
Bible once every year. I have always 
endeavored to read it with the same spirit 
and temper of mind, which I now recom- 
mend to you : that is, with the intention 
and desire that it may contribute to my 
advancement in wisdom and virtue. My 
desire is indeed very imperfectly success- 
ful ; for, like you, and like the Apostle 
Paul, ** I find a law in my members, war- 
ring against the laws of my mind.*' Bat 
as I know that it is my nature to be imper- 
fect, so I know that it is my duty to aim at 
perfection ; and feeling and deploring my 
own frailties, I can only pray Almighty 
G^od, for the aid of his Spirit to strength- 
en my good desires, and to subdue my 
propensities to evil ; for it is from him, 
that every good and every perfect gift 
descends. My custom is, to read four or 
five chapters every morning, immediately 
after rising from my bed. It employs 


about an bonr of my time, and seems to 
me the most suitable manner of begin- 
ning tbe day. But, as other cares, du- 
ties, and occupations, engage the remain- 
der of it, I have perhaps never a sufficient 
portion of my time in meditation, up- 
on what I have read. Even meditation 
itself is often fruitless, unless it has some 
special object in view; usefal thoughts 
often arise in the mind, and pass away 
without being remembered or applied to 
any good purpose — like the seed scat- 
tered upon the surface of the ground, 
which the birds devour, or the wind 
blows away, or which rot without ta- 
king root, however good the soil may 
be upon which they are cast. We are 
all, my dear George, xmwilling to confess 
our own faults, even to ourselves : and 
when our own consciences are too honest 
to conceal them from us, our self-love is 
always busy, either in attempting to dis- 


guise tbem to us under false and delusive 
colors, or in seeking out excuses and apol- 
ogies to reconcile tbem to our minds. 
Thus, although I am sensible that I have 
not derived from my assiduous perusal 
of the Bible (and I might apply the same 
remark to almost everything else that I 
do) all the benefit that I might and ought, 
I am as constantly endeavoring to per- 
suade myself that it is not my own fault. 
Sometimes I say to myself, I do not xm- 
derstand what I have read; I can not 
help it ; I did not make my own tmder- 
standing : there are many things in the 
Bible " hard to understand," as St. Peter 
expressly says of Paul's epistles : some 
are hard in the Hebrew, and some in the 
Greek—the original languages in which 
the Scriptures were written; some are 
harder still in the translations. I have 
heen obliged to lead a wandering life 
about the world, and scarcely ever have 




at hand the book, which might help me to 
surmount these difficulties. Conscience 
sometimes puts the question — whether 
my not imderstanding many passages is 
not owing to my want of attention in 
reading them. I must admit, that it is ; 
a full proof of which is, that every time 
1 read the Book through, I understand 
some passages which I never understood 
before, and which I should have done, at 
a former reading, had it been effected 
with a sufficient degree of attention. 
Then, in answer to myself, I say : It is 
true ; but I can not always command my 
own attention, and never can to the de- 
gree that I wish. My mind is ofttimes 
so full of other things, absorbed in bodily 
pain, or engrossed by passion, or distracted 
by pleasure, or exhausted by dissipa- 
tion, that I can not give to proper daily 
employment the attention which I gladly 
would, and which is absolutely necessary 


to make it "fmitful of good works." 
This acknowledgment of my weaknefls 
is just ; but for how much of it I am stiU 
acconntable to God, I hardly dare ac- 
knowledge to myself. Is it bodily pain ? 
How often was that brought upon me by 
my own imprudence or folly ? Was it 
passion? Heaven has given to every 
human being, the power of controlling 
his passions, and if he neglects or loses 
it, the fault is his own, and he must be 
answerable for if. Was it pleasure? 
Why did I indulge it ? Was it dissipa- 
tion? This is the most inexcusable of 
all ; for it must have been occasioned by 
my own thoughtlessness or irresolution. 
It is of no use to discover our own 
faults and infirmities, unless the discovery 
prompts us to amendment. 

I have thought if in addition to the 
hour which I daily give to the reading of 
the Bible, I should also from time to time 


(and especially on the Sabbath) apply 
another hour occasionally to communicate 
to yon the reflections that arise in my 
mind upon its perusal, it might not only 
tend to fix and promote my own attention 
to the excellent instructions of that sa- 
cred Book, but perhaps also assist your 
advancement in its knowledge and wis- 
dom. At your age, it is probable that 
you have still greater difficulties to un- 
derstand all that you read in the Bible, 
than I have at mine ; and if you have so 
much self-observation as your letters in- 
dicate, you will be sensible of as much 
want of attention, both voluntary and 
involuntary, as I here acknowledge in 
myself. I intend, therefore, for the pur- 
pose of contributing to your improvement 
and my own, to write you several let- 
ters, in due time to follow this, in which I 
shall endeavor to show you how you may 
derive the most advantage to yourself. 


from the perusal of the Scriptures. It 
is probable, when you receive these let- 
ters, you will not, at first reading entirely 
understand them ; if that should be the 
case, ask your grand-parents, or your 
uncle or aimt, to explain them : if you 
still find them too hard, put them on file, 
and lay them by for two or three years, 
after which read them again, and you 
will find them easy enough. It is essen- 
tial, my son, in order that you may go 
through life with comfort to yourself, and 
usefulness to your fellow-creatures, that 
you shoulcLform and adopt certain rules or 
principles, for the government of your 
own conduct and temper. Unless you 
have such rules and principles, there will 
be numberless occasions on which you 
will have no guide for your government 
but your passions. In your infancy and- 
youth, you have been, and will be for 
some years, xmder the authority and con- 


trol of joor friends and instructors ; but 
you must soon come to the age when you 
must govern yourself. You have already 
come to tbat age in many respects ; you 
know the difference between right and 
wrong, and you know some of your du- 
ties, and the obligations you are under, 
to become acquainted with them all. It 
is in the Bible, you must learn them, and 
from the Bible how to practise them* 
Those duties are to Gbd, to your fellow- 
creatures, and to yourself. ** Thou shalt 
love the Lord thy G^od, with all thy 
heart, and with all thy soul, and with all 
thy mind, and with all thy strength, and 
thy neighbor as thyself." On these two 
commandments, Jesus Christ expressly 
says, ** hang all the law and the proph- 
ets ;" that is to say, the whole purpose 
of Divine Revelation is to inculcate them 
efficaciously upon the minds of men. 
You will perceiva that I have spoken of 


duties to yourself, distinct £rom those to 
Qod and to your fellow-creatures ; while 
Jesus Christ speaks only of two com- 
mandments. The reason is, hecause 
Christ, and the commandments repeated 
by him, consider self-love as so implanted 
in the heart of every man by the law of 
his nature, that it requires no command- 
ment to establish its influence over the 
heart; and so great do they know its 
power to be, that they demand no other 
measure for the love of out neighbor, 
than that which they know we shall have 
for ourselves. But from the love of God, 
and the love of our neighbor, result du- 
ties to ourselves as well as to them, 
and they are all to be learned in equal 
perfection by our searching the Script 

Let us, then, search the Scriptures; 
and, in (nrder to pursue our inquiries with 
methodical order, let us consider the 


various sources of mfonnation, that we 
may draw from in this study. The Bi- 
ble contains the revelation of the will 
of (Jod. It contains the history of the 
creation of the world, and of mankind ; 
and afterward the history of one pecu- 
liar nation, certainly the most extraordi- 
nary nation that has ever appeared upon 
the earth. It contains a system of re- 
ligion, and of morality, which we may 
examine upon its own merits, independ- 
ent of the sanction it receives from being 
the Word of God ; and it contains a nu- 
merous collection of books, written at 
different ages of the world, by different 
authors, which we may survey as curious 
monuments of antiquity, and as literary 
compositions. In what light soever we 
regard it, whether with reference to rev- 
elation, to literature, to history, or to 
morality — it is an invaluable and inex- 
haustible mine of knowledge and virtue. 


I shall number separately those letters 
that I mean to write you upon the sub- 
ject of the Bible, and as, after they are 
finished, I shall perhaps ask you to read 
them all together, or to look over them 
again myself, you must keep them cm 
separate file. I wish that hereafter they 
may be useful to your brothers and sis- 
ters, as well as to you. As you will re- 
ceive them as a token of afiection for 
you, during my absence, I pray that they 
may be worthy to read by them all with 
benefit to themselves, if it please God, 
that they should live to be able to under- 
stand them. 

From your affectionate Father, 

John Quinct Adams. 



Tn first point of view in which I 
have invited you to consider the Bible, 
is in the light of IHvine RevdaHan, 
And what are we to understand by these 
terms ? I intend as much as possible, to 
avoid the field of controversy, which I am 
not well acquainted with, and for which I 
have little respect, and still less inclina- 
tion. My idea of the Bible as a Divine 
Revdathn^ is founded upon its practical 
use to mankind, and not upon metaphys- 
ical subtleties. There are three points 
of doctrine, the belief of which, forms 
the foundation of all morality. The first 
is, the existence of a God ; the second is 


the immortality of the human sonl ; and 
the third is, a future state of rewards 
and punishments. Suppose it possible 
for a man to disbelieve either of these 
articles of faith, and that man will have 
no conscience, he will have no other law 
than that of the tiger or the shark ; the 
laws of man may bind him in chains, or 
may put him to death, but they never 
can make him wise, virtuous, or happy. 
It is possible to believe them all without 
believing that the Bible is a Divine rev- 
elation. It is so obvious to every reason- 
able being, that he did not make himself, 
and the world which he inhabits, could 
as little make itself, that the moment we 
begin to exercise the power of reflection, 
it seems impossible to escape the convic- 
tion that there is a Creator. It is equal- 
ly evident that the Creator must be a 
spiritual, and not a material being ; there 
is also a consciousness that the thinking 


part of our nature is not material, but 
spiritual — that it is not subject to the 
laws of matter, nor j>eri8hable with it. 
Hence arises the belief, that we have an 
immortal soul ; and pursuing the train of 
thought which the visible creation and 
observation upon ourselves suggest, we 
must soon discover that the Creator must 
also be the Governor of the universe; 
that his wisdom, and his goodness, must 
be without bounds — that he is a righte- 
ous God, and loves righteousness — that 
mankind are bound by the laws of righ- 
teousness, and are accountable to him 
for their obedience to them in this life, 
according to their good or evil deeds. 
This completion of Divine justice must 
be reserved for another life. The exist- 
ence of a Creator, the immortality of the 
human soul, and a future state of retri- 
bution, are therefore so perfectly conge- 
nial to natural reason when once discov- 



ered — or rather it is so impossible for 
natural reason to disbelieve them — that 
it would seem the light of natural reason 
could alone suffice for their discovery; 
but the conclusion would not be correct. 
Human reason may be sufficient to get 
an obscure glimpse of these sacred and 
important truths, but it can not discover 
them, in all their clearness. For exam- 
ple ; — in all their numberless, false reli- 
gions, which have swayed the minds of 
' men in different ages, and regions of the 
world, the idea of a God has always 
been included : — 

•* Father of all I in every age, 
In every clime adored — 
By saint, by savage, and by sage — 
Jehovah, Jove, or Lord." 

So says Pope's Uni versal Prayer. But, 
it is the God of the Hebrews alone, who 
is announced to us as the Creator of the 
world. The ideas of Grod entertained by 


all the most illustrioxis and moet in 
nioos nations of antiquity were weak 
absurd. The Persians worshipped 
sun t the Egyptians believed in an in 
merable multitude of gods, and worsl 
ped not only oxen, crocodiles, dogs, 
cats, but even garlics and onions. *! 
Greeks invented a poetical religion, 
adored men and women, virtues 
vices, air, water, and fire, and everytl 
that a vivid imagination could person 
Almost all the Greek philosophers reai 
ed and meditated upon the nature of 
gods ; but scarcely any of them refle< 
enough even to imagine that there 
but one God, and not one of them < 
conceived of him as the Creator of 
world. Cicero has collected togethei 
their opinions upon the nature of the g 
and pronounced them more like the dre 
of madmen than the sober judgment 
wise men. In the first book of Ch 


Metamorphoses, there is an account of 
the change of chaos in the world. Before 
the sea, and the earth, and the sky that 
snrronnds all things. (sa3rs Ovid), there 
was a thing called chaos, and some of the 
gods (he does not know which), separated 
from each other the elements of this 
chaos, and tnmed them into the world ; 
thus far and no farther could human rea- 
son extend. But the first words of the 
Bible are, **In the beginning God created 
the heavens and the earth.*' The blessed 
and sublime idea of God, as the creator 
of the universe, the source of aU human 
happiness for which all the sages and 
philosophers of Gk'eece and Rome groped 
in darkness and never found, is recalled 
in the first verse of the book of Genesis. 
I call it the source of all human virtue 
and happiness ; because when we have 
attained the conception o£ a Being, who 
by the mere act of his will, created the 



world, it would follow as an irresist::^ ^^^ 
consequence — even if we were not '^s^/t/ 
that the same Being must also be tAe 
governor of his own creation — that man, 
with all other things, was also created by 
him, and must hold his felicity and virtue 
on the condition of obedience to his will. 
In the first chapters of the Bible there is 
a short and rapid historical narrative of 
the manner in which the world and man 
were made — of the condition upon which 
happiness and immortality were bestowed 
upon our first parents — of their trans- 
gression of this condition — of the punish- 
ment denounced upon them — and the 
promise of redemption from it by the 
** seed of the woman." 

There are, and always have been, where 
the Holy Scriptures have been known, 
petty witlings and self-conceited reason- 
ers, who cavil at some of the particular 
details of this narration. Even serious 


inquirers after truth have sometimes been 
perplexed to believe that there should 
have been evening and morning before 
the existence of the sun — that man should 
be made of clay, and woman from the ribs 
of man — that they should have been for- 
bidden to eat an apple, and for disobedi- 
ence to that injunction, be with all their 
posterity doomed to death, and that eat- 
ing an apple could give ** the knowledge 
of good and evil" — that a serpent should 
speak and beguile a woman. All this is 
imdoubtedly marvellous, and above our 
comprehension. Much of it is clearly 
figurative and allegorical ; nor is it easy 
to distinguish what part of it is to be un- 
derstood in a literal and not in a symbol- 
ical sense. But all that it imports us to 
know or understand is plain ; the great 
and essential principles, upon which our 
duties and enjoyments depend, are in- 
Tolved in no obscurity. A God, the 


Creator and Gbvemor of the universe, is 
revealed in all his majesty and power ; 
the terms npon which he gave existence 
and happiness to the common parent of 
mankind are exposed to us in the clear- 
est light. Disobedience to the will of 
Grod was the offence for which he was 
precipitated from paradise : obedience to 
the will of God is the merit by which 
paradise is to be regained. Here, then, 
is the foundation of all morality — the 
soorce of all our obligations, as accountable 
creatures. This idea of the transcendent 
power of the Supreme Being is essential- 
ly connected with that by which the 
whole duty of man is summed up ; obe- 
dience to his will. I have observed that 
natural reason might suffice for an ob- 
scure perception, but not for the clear 
discovery of these truths. Even Cicero 
could start to his own mind the question, 
whether justice could exist upcm earth 

. \ j^ 


unless founded npon piety, but could not 
settle it to his own satisfaction. The ray 
of divine light contained in the principle, 
that justice has no other foundation than 
piety, could make its way to the soul of 
the heathen, but there it was extinguish- 
ed in the low, unsettled, and inconsistent 
notions which were the only foundations 
of his piety. How could hii» piety be 
pure or sound, when he did not know 
whether there was one God or a thousand 
— whether he, or they had or had not any 
concern in the formation of the world, and 
whether they had any regard to the af- 
fairs or the conduct of mankind ? Once 
assume the idea of a single God, the Cre- 
ator of all things, whose will is the law 
of moral obligation to man, and to whom 
man is accountable, and piety becomes 
as rational as it is essential ; it becomes 
the first of human duties ; and not a doubt 
can henceforth remain, that fidelity in the 


associations of human piety, and th^^<^ 
most excellent virtue, justice, repose upofc-j^ / 
no other foundation. / 

At a later age than Cicero, Longinus 
expressly quotes the third verse of the 
first chapter of Genesis as an exam- 
ple of the sublime. "And God said 
let there be light, and there was light ;" 
and wherein consists its sublimity ? In 
the image of the transcendent power pre- 
sented to the mind, with the most striking 
simplicity of expression. Yet this verse 
only exhibits the effects of that trans- 
cendent power which the first verse dis- 
closes in announcing God as the Creator 
of the world. The true sublimity is in 
the idea given us of God. To such a 
God the heart of man must yield with 
cheerfulness the tribute of homage which 
it never could pay to the numerous gods 
of Egypt, to the dissolute debauchees of 
the heathen mythology, nor even to the 


more elevated, but not less fantastical 
imaginations of the Grecian philosophers 
and sages. 
From your affectionate Father, 

John Quinct Adams. 



The second general point of view, in 
which I propose for yon to consider the 
Bible, to the end that it may " thorough- 
ly furnish you unto all good works," is 
in the historical character. 

To a man of liberal education, the 
study of history is not only useful, and 
important, but altogether indispensable, 
and with regard to the history contained 
in the Bible, the observation which Cicero . 
makes respecting that of his own country 
is much more emphatically applicable, 
that ** it is not so much praiseworthy to 
be acquainted with as it is shameful to 
be ignorant of it." History, so far as it 


relates to the actions and adventures of 
men, may be divided into five dififerent 
classes. First, tlie history of the world, 
otherwise called universal history ; sec- 
ond, that of particular nations ; third, that 
of particular institutions; fourth, that of 
single families ; and fifth, that of individ- 
ual ^pen. The last two of these classes 
are generally distinguished by the name 
of memoirs and biography. All these 
classes of history are to be found in the 
Bible, and it may be worth your while 
to discriminate them one from another. 
The universal history is short, and all 
contained in the first eleven chapters of 
Genesis, together with the first chapter 
of the first book of Chronicles, which is 
little more than a genealo^cal list' of 
names ; but it is of great importance, not 
only as it includes the history of the crea- 
tion, of the fall of man, of the antediluvian 
world, and the flood by which the whole 



bnman race (excepting Noah and his fam- 
ily) were destroyed, but as it gives a very 
precise account of the time from the crea- 
tion until the birth of Abraham. This is 
the foundation of ancient history, and in 
reading profane historians hereafter, I 
would advise you always to reflect upon 
their narratives with reference to it with 
respect to the chronology. A correct 
idea of this is so necessary to understand 
all history, ancient and modem, that I 
may hereafter write you something further 
concerning it : for the present I shall only 
recommend to your particular attention 
the fifth and eleventh chapters of Grene- 
sis, and request you to cast up and write 
me the amount of the age of the world 
when Abraham was bom. The remain- 
der of the book of Genesis, beginning af 
the twelth chapter, is a history of one i^ 
dividual (Abraham) and his family r 
ring three generations of his descendr 


after which the book of Exodus com- 
mences with the history of the same fam- 
ily, multiplied into a nation; this nation- 
al and family history is continued through 
the books of the Old Testament until that 
of Job, which is of a peculiar character, 
diiSering in many particulars from every 
other part of the Scriptures. There is 
no other history extant which can give 
so interesting and correct view of the rise 
and progress of human associations, as 
this account of Abraham and his descend- 
ants, through aU the vicissitudes to which 
individuals, families, and nations, are lia- 
ble. There is no other history where 
the origin of a whole nation is traced up 
to a single man, and where a connected 
train of events and a regular series of 
persons from generation to generation is 
preserved. As the history of a family, 
it is intimately connected with our re- 
ligious principles and opinions, for it is 


the family from which (in his human 
character) Jeans Christ descended. It 
begins by relating the commands of God 
to Abraham, to abandon his conntzy, bis 
kindred, and his father's house; and to 
go to a land which he wonld show him. 
This command was accompanied by two 
f^romises; from which, and from ih&i 
fulfilment, arose the difierences which I 
have just noticed between the history of 
the Jews and that of every other nation. 
The first of these pronuses was that 
** Grod would make Abraham a great na- 
tion, and bless him ;" the second, and in- 
comparably the moQt important was, that 
** in him all the families of the earth should 
be blessed.'* This promise was made 
about two tJiousand years before the birth 
of Christ, and in him had its fulfilment. 
When Abraham, in obedience to the com- 
mand of God, had gone into the land of 
Canaan, the Lord appeared unto him and 



made him a third promise, which was 
thatiie should give that land to a nation 
which should descend from him, as a 
possession: this was fulfilled between 
five and six hundred years afterward. 
In reading all the historical books of 
both the Old and the New Testament, as 
well as the books of the prophets, you 
should always bear in mind the reference 
which they have to these three promises 
of Ood to Abraham. All the history is 
no more than a narrative of the particu- 
lar manner, and the detail of events by 
which those promises were fulfilled. 

In the account of the creation, and the 
fall of man, I have already remarked that 
the moral doctrine inculcated by the Bi- 
ble is, that the great consummation of all 
hxmian virtue consists in obedience to the 
will of Gbd. When we come hereaf^r 
to speak of the Bible in its ethical char- 
acter, I shall endeavor to show you the 


intrinsic excellence of this principle ; b x^^ 
I shall now only remark how stron^X.^ 
the principle itself is illustrated, first in 
the account of the fall, and next by the 
history of Abraham. In the account of 
the creation we are informed that God, 
after having made the world, created the 
first human pair, and '* gave them domin- 
ion over every living thing that moveth 
upon the earth." He gave them also 
** every herb beaitng seed, and the fruit 
of every tree for meat ;" and all this we 
are told ** Grod saw was very good." 
Thus the immediate possession of every- 
thing was given them, and its perpetual 
enjoyment secured to their descendants, 
on condition of abstaining from the "fruit 
of the tree of knowledge of good and 
evil." It isfiltogether immaterial to my 
present remarks whether the narrative is 
to be understood in a literal or allegorical 
sense, as not only the knoidedge, but the 

possession of created good was granted ; 
the fruit of the tree, could confer upon 
them no knowledge but that of evil, and 
the command was nothing more than to 
abstain from that knowledge — ^to forbear 
from rushing upon their own destruction. 
It is not sufficient to say that this was a 
command in its own nature light and easy ; 
it was a command to pursue the only law 
of their nature, to keep the happiness that 
had been heaped upon them without mea- 
sure; but observe — it contained the prin- 
ciple of obedience — it was assigned to 
them as a duty — and the heaviest of 
penalties was denounced upon its trans- 
gression. They were not to discuss the 
wisdom, or justice of this command ; they 
were not to inquire why it had been en- 
joined upon them, nor could they have 
the slightest possible motive for the in- 
quiry: unqualified felicity and immor- 
tality were already theirs ; wretchedness 


and death were alone forbidden them, but 
placed within their reach as merely triab 
of their obedience. They violated the 
law; they forfeited their joy and im- 
mortality ; they ** brought into the world, 
death, and all our wo.** Here, then, is 
an extreme case in which the mere prin- 
ciple of obedience could be tried, and com- 
mand to abstain from that from which ev- 
ery motive of reason and interest would 
have deterred had the command never 
been given — a conmiand given in the 
easiest of all possible form, requiring not 
so much as an action of any kind, but 
merely forbearance; audits transgression 
was so severely punished, the only in- 
ference we can draw from it is that the 
most aggravated of all crimes, and that 
which includes in itself all others, is dis- 
obedience to the will of God. 

Let us now consider how the principle 
of obedience is inculcated in the history 


of Abraham, by a case in the opposite 
extreme. Qod commanded Abraham to 
abandon for ever his comitry, his kindred, 
and his father's house, to go, he knew not 
where; promising, as a reward of his 
obedience, to bless him and his posterity, 
though he was then childless : he was re- 
<{iiired to renounce everything that coold 
most contribute to the happiness and com- 
fort of his life, and which was in his ac- 
tual enjoyment ; to become a houseless, 
friendless wanderer upon the earth, on 
the mere faith of the promise that a land 
should be shown him which his descend- 
ants should possess — that they should be 
-a great nation — and that through them 
all mankind should receive in fature ages 
a blessing. The obedience required of 
Adam, was merely to retain all the bless- 
ings he enjoyed ; the obedience of Abra- 
ham was to sacrifice all that he possessed 
for the vague and distant prospect of a 



fatore compensation to his posterity : the 
self-control and self-denial required of 
Adam, was in itself the slightest that im- 
agination can conceive — hut its failure 
was punished hy the forfeiture of all Ms 
enjoyments ; the self-dominion to be ex- 
ercised by Abraham was of the most se- 
vere and painful kind — but its accom- 
plishment will ultimately be rewarded by 
the restoration of all that was forfeited by 
Adam. This restoration, however, was 
to be obtained by no ordinary proof of 
obedience ; the sacrifice of mere personal 
blessings, however great, could not lay 
the foundation for the redemption of man- 
kind from death ; the voluntary submis- 
sion of Jesus Christ to his own death, in 
the most excruciating and ignominious 
form, was to consummate the great plan 
of redemption, but the submission of 
Abraham to sacrifice his beloved, and only 
8on Isaac — the child promised by Qod 


himself, and through whom all the great- 
er promises were to he carried into effect, 
the feelings of nature, the parent's bowels, 
were all required to be sacrified by Abra- 
ham to the blind unquestioning principle 
of obedience to the will of God. The 
blood of Isaac was not indeed shed — the 
butchery of an only son by the hand of 
his father, was a sacrifice which a mer- 
ciful God did not require to be complete- 
ly executed ; but as an instance of obe- 
dience it was imposed upon Abraham, 
and nothing less than the voice of an 
angol from heaven could arrest his up- 
lifted arm, and withhold him from sheath- 
ing his knife in the heart of his child. It 
was upon this testimonial of obedience, 
that God's promise of redemption was ex- 
pressly renewed to Abraham: "In thy 
seed shall all the nations of the earth be 
blessed, because thou hast obeyed my 
voice." — Genesis xxii. 18. 



We were considering the Bible in its 
historical character, and as the history 
of a family. From the moment when 
the universal history finishes, that of 
Abraham hegins, and thenceforth, it is 
the history of a family, of which Abraham 
is the first, and Jesns Christ the last per- 
son; and from the first appearance of 
Abraham, the whole history appears to 
have been ordered from age to age, ex- 
pressly to prepare for the appearance of 
Christ upon earth. The history begins 
with the first and mildest trials of Abra- 
ham's obedience, and the promise as a re- 
ward of his fidelity, that ** in him all the 

AWD m T gACniW Og i 

families of the earth should be blessed.*' 
The second trial, which required the sac- 
rifice of his son, was many years after- 
ward, and the promise was more explicit, 
and more precisely assigned as the re- 
ward of his ohedienee. There were be- 
tween these periods, two intermediate 
occasions, recorded in the fifteenth and 
eighteenth chapters of Genesis — on the 
first of which, the word of the Lord 
came to Abraham in a vision, and prom- 
ised him he should have a child, from 
whom a great and mighty nation should 
proceed, which, after being in servitude 
four hundred years in a strange land, 
should become the possessors of the land 
of Canaan, from that of Egypt, to the 
river Euphrates. On the second, the 
Lord appeared to him and his wife, re* 
peated the promise, that they should 
have a child, that ** Abraham should 
surely become a great nation,'* and that 


«* all the nations of the earth should be 
blessed in him," ** for I know him, saith 
the Lord, that he will command his 
household after him, and that they will 
keep the way of the Lord, to do justice 
and judgment, that the Lord may bring 
upon Abraham that which he hath spo- 
ken of him :" from all which it is obvious 
that the first of the promises was made 
as subservient and instrumental to the 
second — that the great and mighty na- 
tion was to be raised as the means in the 
ways of God's providence, for producing 
the sacred person of Jesus Christ, through 
whom the perfect sacrifice of atonement 
for the original transgression of man 
should be consummated, and by which 
** all the families of the earth should be 
blessed." I am so little versed in contro- 
versial divinity, that I know not whether 
this eighteenth chapter of Genesis, has 
ever been adduced in support of the doc- 



trine of Trinity ; there is at least in it an 
alteration of those divine persons, and of 
one not a little remarkable which I know 
not how to explain ; if taken in connex- 
ion with the nineteenth, it would seem 
that one of the men entertained by Abra- 
ham, was God himself, and the other two 
were angels, sent to destroy Sodom. 

Leaving this, however, let me ask 
your particular attention, to the reason 
assigned by God for bestowing such ex- 
traordinary blessings upon Abraham. It 
unfolds to us the first and most important 
part of the superstructure of moral prin- 
ciple, erected upon the foundation of 
obedience to the will of God. The rig- 
orous trials of Abraham's obedience men- 
tioned in this, and my lust letter, were 
only tests to ascertain his character in 
reference to the single, and I may say ab- 
stract point o/* obedience. Here we have 
a precious gleam of light, disclosing what 


the nature of this will of God was, that 
he should command his children, and his 
household after him ; by which the pa- 
rental authority to instruct, and direct 
his descendants in the way of the Lord 
was given him as an authority, and en- 
joined upon him as a duty ; and the les- 
sons which he was then empowered and 
required to teach his posterity were, ** to 
do justice and judgment/' Thus, as obe- 
dience to the will of God, is the first, 
and all-comprehensive virtue taught in 
the Bible, so the second is justice and 
judgment toward mankind ; and this is 
exhibited as the result naturally following 
from the other. In the same chapter is 
related the intercession of Abraham with 
Ghxl for the preservation of Sodom from 
destruction : the city was destroyed for 
its crimes, but the Lord promised Abra- 
ham it should be spared, if only ten righ- 
teous should be found in it : the principle 




of mercy was therefore sanctioned in im- 
mediate connexion with that of justice. 
Abraham had several children ; but the 
great promise of God was to be performed 
through Isaac alone, and of the two sons 
of Isaac, Jacob — the youngest — was 
selected for the foundation of the second 
family and nation ; it was from Jacob 
that the multiplication of the family be- 
gan, and his twelve sous, were all inclu- 
ded in the genealogy of the tribes which 
afterward constituted the Jewish people. 
Ishmael, the children of Keturah, and 
Esau, the eldest son of Isaac, were all 
the parents of considerable families, 
which afterward spread into nations ; but 
they formed no part of the chosen peo- 
ple, and their history, with that of the 
neighboring nations, is only incidentally 
noticed in the Bible, so far as they had 
relations of intercourse or hostility with 
the people of (Jod. 

t " 


The history of Abraham and his de- 
scendants to the close of the book of Gen- 
esis is a biography of individuals : the in- 
cidents related of them are all of the class 
belonging to domestic life. Joseph, in- 
deed, became a highly distinguished pub- 
lic character in the land of Egypt, and it 
was through him that his father and all 
his brothers were finally settled there — 
which was necessary to prepare for the 
existence of their posterity as a nation, 
and to fulfil the purpose which God had 
announced to Abraham, that they should 
be four hundred years dwellers in a strange 
land. In the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Ja- 
cob, and Joseph, many miraculous events 
are recorded ; but all those which are 
spoken of as happening in the ordinary 
course of human aETairs have an air of 
reality about them which no invention 
could imitate. In some of the transactions 
related, the conduct of the patriarchs is 



liighly blameable ; circumstances of deep 
depravity are particularly told of Reuben, 
Simeon, Levi, and Judab, upon which it 
is necessary to remark that their actions 
are never spoken of with approbation, but 
always with strong marks of censure, and 
generally with a minute account of the 
punishment which followed upon their 
transgression. The vices and crimes of 
the patriarchs, are sometimes alleged as 
objections against the belief that persons 
guilty of them should ever have been 
especially favored by God ; but, vicious 
as they were, there is every reason to be 
convinced that they were less so than 
their contemporaries : their vices appear 
to US at this day gross, disgusting and 
atrocious; but the written law was not 
then given, the boundaries between right 
and wrong were not defined with the same 
precision as in the tables given afterward 
to Moses ; the law of nature was the only 


rule of morality by wbicli they could be 
governed, and the sins of intemperance, 
of every kind recorded in Holy Writ, 
were at that p>eriod less aggravated than 
they have been in after ages, because they 
were in great measure sins of ignorance. 
From the time when the sons of Jacob 
were settled in Egypt until the completion 
of the four hundred years, during which 
GM had foretold to Abraham that his 
family should dwell there, there is a chasm 
m the sacred history. We are expressly 
told that all the house of Jacob which 
came into Egypt, were threescore and 
ten : it is said then that Joseph died, as 
did all that generation ; after which noth- 
ing further is related of their posterity 
than that " they were faithful and multi- 
plied abundantly, and waxed exceeding 
mighty, and the land was filled with them, 
«ntil there arose a new king who knew 
not Joseph.** — On his- first arrival m 

' 'I ' 


Egypt, Jacob had obtained a grant from 
Pharaoh of the land of Goshen, a place 
particularly snited to the pasturage of 
flocks : Jacob and his family were shep- 
herds, and this circumstance was, in the 
first instance, the occasion upon which 
that separate spot was assigned to them, 
and, secondarily, was the means pro- 
yided by God for keeping separate two 
nations thus residing together : every 
shepherd was an abomination to the 
Egyptians, and the Israelites were shep- 
herds, although dwelling in the land of 
Egypt; therefore, the Israelites were 
sojourners and strange/s ; and by mutual 
antipathy toward each other, originating 
in their respective conditions, they were 
prevented from intermingling by marriage, 
and losing their distinctive characters. 
This was the cause which had been re- 
served by the Si^preme Creator, during 
the space of three generations and more 


than four centuries, as the occasion for 
eventually bringing them out of the land ; 
for, in proportion as they multiplied, it 
had the tendency to excite the jealousies 
and fears of the Egyptian king — as ac- 
tually happened. These jealousies and 
fears suggested to him a policy of the 
most intolerable oppression and the most 
execrable cruelty toward the Israelites: 
not contented with reducing them to the 
most degraded condition of servitude, and 
making their lives bitter with hard bond- 
age, he conceived the project of destroy- 
ing the whole race, by ordering all the 
male children to be murdered as soon as 
they were bom. In the wisdom of Prov- 
idence, this very command was the means 
of preparing this family — when they had 
multiplied into a nation — for their issue 
from Egypt, and for their conquest of the 
land which had been promised to Abra- 
ham ; and it was at the same time the 



immediate occasion of raising up the great 
warrior, legislator, and prophet, who was 
to be their deliverer and leader. Thence- 
forth, they are to be considered as a peo- 
ple, and their history as that of a nation. 
During a period of more than a thousand 
years, the Bible gives us a particular ac- 
count of their destinies : an outline of 
their constitution, civil, military, and re- 
ligious, with the code of laws presented 
to them by the Deity, is contained in the 
books of Moses, and will afford us copious 
materials for future consideration. Their 
subsequent revolutions of government un- 
der Joshua, fifteen successive chiefs de- 
nominated judges, and a succession of 
kings, until they were first dismembered 
into two separate kingdoms, and after a 
lapse of some centuries both conquered 
by the Assyrians and Babylonians, and at 
the end of seventy years partially restored 
to their country and their temple, con- 


stitnte the remaining historical books of 
the Old Testament, every part of which 
is full of instruction. But my present 
purpose is only to point your attention to 
their general historical character. My 
next will contain a few remarks on the 
Bible as a system of morals. In the 

I remain your affectionate Father, 
John Quinct Adams. 



In the promise with which my last 
letter to you upon the Bible was concluded, 
I undertook a task from the performance 
of which I have been hitherto deterred 
by its very magnitude and importance : 
the more I reflected upon the subject, the 
more sensibly did I feel ray incompetency 
to do it justice, and by a weakness too com- 
mon in the world, from the apprehension 
of inability to accomplish as much as I 
ought, I have hitherto been withheld from 
the attempt to accomplish anything at all. 
Thus more than a year has elapsed, leav- 
ing me still burdened with the load of my 
promise; and in now undertaking to dis- 


charge it, I mast promise that you are 
only to expect the desultory and indigested 
thoughts which I have not the means of 
combining into a regular and systematic 

I shall not entangle myself in the con- 
troversy which has sometimes been dis- 
cussed with a temper not very congenial 
to either the nature of the question itself 
or the undoubted principles of Christian- 
ity, whether the Bible, like aU other sys- 
tems of morality, lays the ultimate basis 
of all human duties inself-love, or whether 
it enjoins duties on the principle ofperfectt 
and disinterested benevolence. Whether 
the obligations are sanctioned by a prom- 
ise of reward or a menace of punishment, 
the ultimate motive for its fulfilment may 
justly be attributed to selfish consider- 
ations. But if obedience to the will of 
God be the universal and only foundation 
of all moral duty, special injunctions may 



be binding upon the consciences of men, 
although their perfonnance should not be 
secured either by the impulse of hope* or 
fear. The law given from Sinai was a 
civil and municipal as well as a moral 
and religious code; it contained many 
statutes adapted to that time only, and 
to the particular circumstances of the na- 
tion to whom it was given ; they could 
of course be binding upon them, and only 
upon them, until abrogated by the same 
authority which enacted them, as they 
afterward were by the Christian dispensa- 
tion : but many others were of universal 
application — laws essential to the exist- 
ence of men in society, and most of which 
have been enacted by every nation, which 
ever professed any code of laws. But 
the Levitical was given by God himself; 
it extended to a great variety of objects 
of infinite importance to the welfare of 
men, but which could not come within 


the reach of human legislation ; it com- 
bined the temporal and spiritual authori- 
ties together, and regulated not only the 
actions but the passions of those to whom 
it was given. Human legislators can un- 
dertake only to prescribe the actions of 
men: they acknowledge their inability 
to govern and direct the sentiments of the 
heart; the very law styles it a rule of civil 
conduct, not of internal principles, and 
there is no crime in the power of an in- 
dividual to perpetrate which he may not 
design, project, and fuUy intend, without 
incurring guilt in the eye of human law. 
It is one of the greatest marks of Divine 
favor bestowed upon the children of Israel, 
that the legislator gave them rules not 
only of action but for the government of 
the heart. There were occasionally a 
few short sententious principles of moral- 
ity issued from the oracles of Greece; 
■niong them, and undoubtedly the nioet 




excellent of them, was that of self-knowl- 
edge, which one of the purest moralists 
and finest poets of Rome expressly says 
came from Heaven. 

But if you would remark the distin- 
guishing characteristics between true 
and false religion, compare the manner 
in which the ten commandments were 
proclaimed by the voice of the Almighty 
Grod, from Mount Sinai, with thunder, and 
lightning, and earthquake, by the sound 
of the trumpet, and in the hearing of six 
thousand souls, with the studied secresy, 
aud mystery, and mummery, with which 
the Delphic and other oracles of the Gre- 
cian gods were delivered. The miracu- 
lous interpositions of Divine power re- 
corded in every part of the Bible, are in- 
variably marked with grandeur and sub- 
limity worthy of the Creator of the world, 
and before which the gods of Homer, not 
excepting his Jupiter, dwindle into the 



most coiitcmj)tib1e pigmies; but on 
occasion was the manifestation of tl::^ 
Deity so solemn, so awful, so calculate 
to make indelible impressions upon tl^^ 
imaginations and souls of the mortals to 
whom he revealed himself, as when he 
appeared in the character of their Law- 
giver. The law thus dispensed was, 
however, imperfect; it was destined to 
be partly suspended and improved into 
absolute perfection many ages afterward 
by the appearance of Jesus Christ upon 
earth. But to judge of its excellence as 
a system of laws, it must be compared 
with human codes which existed or were 
promulgated at nearly the same age of 
the world in other nations. Remember, 
that the law was given 1,490 years before 
Christ was bom, at the time the Assyrian 
and Egyptian monarchies existed : but of 
their government and laws we know 
scarcely anything save what is collected 



from the Bible. Of the Phrygian, Lydian, 
and Trojan states, at the same period, 
little more is known. The president 
Gbrget, in a very elaborate and ingenious 
work on the origin of letters, arts, and 
sciences, among the ancient nations, says, 
that ** the maxims, the civil and political 
laws of these people, are absolutely un- 
known; that not even an idea of them 
can be formed, with the single exception 
of the Lydians, of whom Herodotus as- 
serts, that their laws were the same as 
the Greeks." — The same author con- 
trasts the total darkness and oblivion into 
which all the institutions of these mighty 
empires have fallen, with the fulness and 
clearness and admirable composition of 
the Hebrew code, which has not only 
descended to us entire, but still continues 
the national code of the Jews (scattered 
as they are over the whole face of the - 
earth), and enters so largely into the 


legislation of almoet every civilized na- 
tion upon the globe. He observes diat 
** these laws have been prescribed by Qod 
himself: the merely homan laws of other 
contemporary nations can not bear any 
comparison with them.** 

But my motive in forming the compar- 
ison, is to present to your reflections as a 
proof — and to my mind a very strong 
proof — of the reality of their divine origin : 
for how is it that the whole system of 
government, and administration, the mu- 
nicipal, political, ecclesiastical, military, 
and moral laws and institutions, which 
bound in society the numberless myriads 
of human beings who formed for many 
successive ages the stupendous mon- 
archies of Africa and Asia, should have 
perished entirely and been obliterated 
from the menoory of mankind, while the 
laws of a paltry tribe of shepherds, char- 
acterised by Tacitus, and the sneering 


infidelity of GKbbon, as *Hhe most despi- 
sed portion of their slaves,*' shonld not 
ouly have survived the wreck of those 
empires, but remain to this day rules of 
faith and practice to every enlightened 
nation of the world, and perishable only 
with it? The reason is obvious: it is 
their intrinsic excellence which has pre- 
served them from the destruction which 
befalls all the works of mortal man. The 
precepts of the decalogue alone (says 
Grorget), disclose more sublime truths, 
more maxims essentially suited to the hap- 
piness of man, than all the writings of 
profane antiquity put together can furnish. 
The more you meditate on the laws of 
Moses, the more striking and brighter does 
their wisdom appear. It would be a la- 
borious but not an unprofitable investiga- 
tion, to reduce into a regular classifica- 
tion, like that of the institutes of Justinian 
or the Commentaries of Blackstone, the 

\ : 


wbole code of Moses, winch embrac^^ 
not only all the ordinary sulgects of legis^^ 
lation together with the principles of re^ — 
ligion and morality, but laws of ecclesi-^ 
a«tical directions concerning the minutest / 
actions and dress of individuals. This, 
however, would lead me too far from my 
present purpose, which is merely to con- 
sider the Bible as a system of morality ; 
I shall therefore notice those parts of the 
law which may be referred particularly 
to that class, and at present must confine 
myself to a few remarks upon the deca- 
logue itself, which, having been spoken 
by the voice, and twice written upon the 
stone tables by the finger of Grod, may 
be considered as the foundation of the 
whole system — of the ten conmiandments, 
emphatically so called, for the extraordi- 
nary and miraculous distinction by which 
they were promulgated. 

The first four commandments are re- 


ligioQs laws, the fifth and tenth are prop- 
erly and peculiarly moral and domestic 
roles ; the other four are of the criminal 
department of municipal laws : the unity 
of the godhead, the prohibition of making 
graven images to worship : that of taking 
lightly (or in vain as the English transla- 
tion expresses it) the name of the Deity, 
and the injunction to observe the Sab- 
bath as a day sanctified and set apart for 
his worship, were all intended to incul- 
cate the reverence for the one only and 
true God — that profound and penetrating 
sentiment of piety which, in a former let- 
ter, I urged as the great and only im- 
movable foundation of all human virtue. 
Next to the duties toward the Creator, 
that of honoring the earthly parent is en- 
joined : it is to them that every individ- 
ual owes the greatest obligations, and to 
them that he is consequently bound by 
the first and strongest of all earthly ties. 


The following commftiids, ftpplyii^i 
relatiom between man and his 
mortals, are all negative, as their >^P^;^^t^ 
cation was nniyersal, to every human '^ y 
ing: it was not required that any positive \ 
acts of beneficence toward them should I 
be performed ; but only to abstain firom 
wronging them, either: first, in their per- 
soDsi second, in their property; dnrd, in 
Uieir conjugal rights ; fourth, in their good 
name : after which, all the essential en- 
joyments of life being thus guarded finom 
yduntary injury, the tenth and closing 
commandment goes to the very source of 
all human actions — the heart — and posi- 
tively forbids all those desires which first 
prompt and lead to every transgression 
upon the property and right erf" our fellow- 
creatures. Vain, indeed, would be the 
search among the writings of profane an- 
tiqxiity (not merely of that remote an- 
tiquity, but even in the most refined and 


plulosophical ages of Greece and Rome), 
to find so broad, so complete and so solid 
a basis for morality as this decalogue lays 
down. Yet I have said it was imperfect 
— its sanctions, its rewards, its punish- 
ments, had reference only to present life, 
and it had no injunctions of positive 
beneficence toward our neighbors. Of 
these the law was not entirely destitute 
in its other parts; but, both in this re- 
spect and in the other, it was to be per- 
fected by him who brought life and im- 
mcHTtality to light in the gospel. Upon 
which subject you shall hear m^e, 
Frcnn your affectionate Father, 

John Quinct Adams. 



I PROBnsED yon, in my last letters, to 
state the particulars in which I deemed 
the Christian dispensation to be an im- 
provement, or perfection of the law de- 
livered at Sinai, consi<lered as inclading 
a system of morality ; but before I come 
to this point, it is proper to remark upon 
the character of the books of the Old 
Testament, subsequent to those of Moses. 
Some are historical, some prophetical, 
and some poetical ; and two may be con- 
sidered as peculiarly of the moral class 
— one being an affecting dissertation up- 
on the vanity of human life, and another 
a collection of moral sentences under the 



name of Proverbs. I have already ob- 
served that the great immovable and 
eternal foundation of the superiority of 
scripture morals, to all other morality, 
was the idea of God disclosed in them 
and only in them : the unity of God, his 
omnipotence, his righteousness, his mer- 
cy, and the infinity of his attributes, are 
marked in every line of the Old Testa- 
ment, in characters which nothing less 
than blindness, can fail to discern, and 
nothing less than fraud can misrepre- 
sent. This conception of God serving 
as a basis for the piety of .his worship- 
pers, was of course incomparably more 
rational and more profound, than it was 
possible that sentiment could be which 
adored devils for deities, or even that of 
philosophers, like Socrates, Plato, and 
Cicero, who with purer and more exalted 
ideas of the Divine nature, than the rab- 
ble of the poets, still considered the ex- 


istence of any God at all, as a questi^^^ 
npon which they could form no decid^^^ . 
opinion. You have seen that eve» / 
Cicero believed the only solid foundation 
of all human virtue to be piety ; and it 
was impossible that a piety so far tran- 
scending that of all other naticms should 
not contain in its consequences a system 
of moral virtue equally transcendent. 

The first of the ten conmiandments 
was, that the Jewish people should never 
admit the idea of any other God — the 
object of the second, third, and fourth, 
was merely to impress with greater force 
the obligation of the first, and to obviate 
the tendencies and temptations, which 
might arise to its being neglected, or dis- 
regarded. Throughout the whole law, 
the same injunctions are c(»itinually re- 
newed ; all the rites and ceremonies 
were adapted to root deeper into the 
hearts and souls of the chosen people, 

that the Lord Jehovah was to be for ever 
the sole and exclusive object of love. 
Reverence and adoration, nnbonnded as 
his own natnre was the principle ; ev- 
ery letter of the law, and the whole Bi- 
ble is but a commentary npon it, and 
corollary from it. The law was given 
not merely in the form of a command- 
ment from Gk)d, but in that of a cove- 
nant or compact between the Supreme 
Creator and the Jewish people ; it was 
sanctioned by the blessing and the corse 
pronounced upon Mount Gerizim and 
Mount Ebal, in the presence of the 
whole Jewish people and strangers, and 
by the solemn acceptance of the whole 
people responding amen to every one of 
the corses denounced for violation on 
their part of the covenant. From that 
day until the birth of Christ (a period 
of about fifteen hondred years) the his- 
torical books of the Old Testament, are 
, 1 


no more than a umple record of the fiil- 
fiUment of the covenant, in all its hles- 
sings and curses, exactly adapted to the 
fulfilment or transgression of its duties 
by the people. The nation was first 
governed by Joshua, under the express 
appointment of Qod ; then by a succes- 
sion of judges, and afterward by a double 
line of kings, until conquered and car- 
ried into captivity by the kings of As- 
syria and Babylon : seventy years after- 
ward restored to their country, their tem- 
ple, and their laws ; and again conquered 
by the Romans, and ruled by their tribu- 
tary kings and proconsuls. Yet, through 
all their vicissitudes of fortune, they nev- 
er complied with the duties to which 
they had bound themselves by the cov- 
enant, without being loaded with the 
blessings promised on Mount Oerizim, 
and never departed from them without 
being afflicted with some of the curses 


denounced ap(m Mount Ebal. The pro- 
phetical books are themselves histbrical 
— for prophecy, in the strictest sense, is 
no more than history related before the 
event ; but the Jewish prophets (of whom 
there was a succession almost constant, 
from the time of Joshua to that of Christ) 
were messengers, specially commissioned 
of God, to warn the people of their du- 
ty, to foretell the punishments which 
awaited their transgres^ons, and finally 
to keep alive by uninterrupted prediction 
the expectation of the Messiah, **the 
seed of Abraham, in whom all the fami- 
lies of the earth should be blessed.*' 
With this conception of the Divine na- 
ture, so infinitely surpassing that of any 
other nation — with this system of moral 
virtue, so indissolubly blending as by the 
eternal constitution of things must be 
blended piety — with this uninterrupted 
series of signs and wonders, prophets and 


seers, miraculous interpositions of the 
ocnni^otent Creator, to preserve and vin- 
dicate the truth — it is lamentable ; but to 
those who know the nature of man, it is 
not surprising to find the Jewish history 
little else than a narrative of idolatries 
and corruption of the Israelites and their 
monarchs. That' the very people who had 
heard the voice of God from Mount 
Sinai, within forty days compel A&roa 
to make a golden calf, and worship that 
as the " God who brought them out of 
the land of Egypt" — that the very Sol- 
omon, the wisest of mankind, to whom 
God had twice revealed himself in vis- 
ions — the sublime dictator of the tem- 
ple, the witness, in the presence of the 
whole people, of the fire from heaven 
which consumed the offerings from the 
altar, and of the glory of the Lord that 
filled the house — that he, in his old age, 
beguiled by fair idolatresses, should have 


fallen from the worship of the ever- 
hlessed Jehovah, to that of Ashtaroth and 
Milcom, &c., the abomination of all the 
petty tribes of Judea — that of Baal, and 
Dagcm, dec., the sim, moon, and planets, 
and all the host of heaven — that the 
mountains and plains, every high place 
and every grove, should have swarmed 
with idols, to corrupt the hearts and de- 
base the minds of a people so highly 
favored of Heaven, the elect of the 
Almighty — may be among the mysteries 
o£ Divine Providence, which it is not 
given to mortality to explain, but is in- 
admissible only to those who presume to 
demand wby it has pleased the Supreme 
Arbiter of events, to create such a being 
as man. Observe, however, that amid 
the atrocious crimes which that nation so 
often polluted themselves with — through 
all their servitudes, dismemberments, 
. captivities, and tiransmigratioiis — the Di- 


reason of mankind, that I might almost in- 
vert the question, and say, ** Where is the 
human being found believing in t^ny Gk>d 
at all, and not believing in him ?" 

The moral character of the Old Tqata- 
ment, then, is, that piety to God is the 
foundation of all virtue, and that virtue 
is inseparable from it: but that piety 
without the practice of virtue is itself a 
crime and the aggravation of all iniquity. 
All the virtues which are here recognised 
by the heathen, are inculcated not only 
with more authority but with more en- 
ergy of argument and noore eloquent per- 
suasion in the Bible than in all the wri- 
tings of the ancient moralists. In one of 
the apocryphal books (Wisdom of Solo- 
mon), the cardinal virtues are expressly 
named : **If any man love righteousness, 
her labors are virtue, for she teacheth 
temperance, and prudence, and justice, 
and fortitude ;*' which are such things as 


empires, Tyre and Sidon, Carthage, and 
all the other nations of antiquity, rose 
and fell in their religious institutions at 
the same time as in their laws and gov- 
enmient : it was the practice of the Ro- 
mans, when they besieged a city, to 
invoke its gods to come over to them ; 
they considered the gods as summer 
friends, ready to desert their votaries in 
the hour of calamity, or as traitors, ready 

I to sell themselves for a bribe ; they had 
no higher estimate of their own than of 

'the stranger deities, whom, as Gibbon 
said — ♦* they were always ready to ad- 
mit to the freedom of the city." All the 
gods of the heathens have perished with 
their makers ; for where on the ftbce of 
the globe, could now be found the being 
who believes in any one (rf them ? So 
much more deep and strong was the hold 
which the God of Abraham, Isaac, and 
Jacob, took upon the imaginations and 


next letter. In the meantiine as I have 
urged that the scriptoral idea of CM is 
the foundation of all perfect virtne, and 
that it is totally different from the idea 
of God conceived by any ancient nation, 
I should recommend it to you in pursuing 
the Scriptures hereafter to meditate often 
upon the expressions by which they mark 
the character of the Deity, and to reflect 
upon the duties to him and to your fellow 
mortals which follow by inevitable de- 
ductions from them. That you may have 
an exact idea of the opinions of ancient 
heathen philosophers concerning Qod, or 
rather the gads^ study Cicero^s dialogues, 
and read the abbe 01ivet*8 remarks on 
the theology of the Grecian philosophers, 
annexed to his translations. 
From your affectionate Father, 

John Quinct Adams. 



The imperfections of the Mosaic insti- 
tution which it was the object of Christ's 
mission upon earth to remove, appear to 
me to have been these : first. The want 
of a sufficient sanction. The rewards 
and penalties of the Levitical law had all 
a reference to the present life. There 
are many passages in the Old Testament 
which imply a state of existence after 
death, and some which directly assert a 
future state of retribution ; but none of 
these were contained in the delivery of 
the law. At the time of Christ's advent, 
it was so far from being a settled article 
of the Jewish faith, that it was a subject 



of bitter controversy between the two 
principal sects — of Pharisees who be- 
lieved in, and Sadducees who denied 
it. It was the special purpose of Christ's 
appearance npon earth, to bring immor- 
tality to light. He substituted the re- 
wards and punishments of a fature state 
of existence in the room of all others. 
The Jewish sanctions were exclusively 
temporal: those of Christ exclusively 
spiritual. Second, The want of univer- 
sality. The Jewish dispensation was ex- 
clusively confined to a small and obscure 
xiatiott. The purposes of the Supreme 
Creator in restricting the knowledge of 
himself to one petty herd of Egyptian 
ellaves, are as inaccessible to our intelli- 
gence as those of his having concealed 
from them, and from the rest of mankind, 
the certain knowledge of their own im- 
mortality ; yet the fact is unquestionable. 
The mission of Christ was intended to 


communicate to the whole human race 
all the permanent advantages of the Mo- 
saic law, superadding to them — upon the 
condition of repentance — the kingdom 
of heaven, the blessing of eternal life. 
Third, the complexity of the objects of 
legislation. I have observed in a former 
letter, that the law from Sinai comprised, 
not only all the ordinary subjects of reg- 
ulation for human societies, but those 
which human legislators can not reach. 
It was a civil law, a municipal law, 
an ecclesiastical law, a law of police, 
and a law of morality and religion: 
it prohibited murder, adultery, theft, 
and perjury; it prescribed rules for the 
thoughts as well as for the actions of 
men. The complexity, however prac- 
ticable and even suitable for one small 
national society, could not have attained 
to all the families of the earth. The 
parts of the Jewish law adapted to pro- 


mote the happiness of mankind, under 
every variety of situation and govern- 
ment in which they can be placed, were 
all recognised and adopted by Christ ; 
and he expressly separated them from 
the rest. He disclaimed all interference 
with the ordinary objects of haman legis- 
lation ; he declared that his ** kingdom 
was not of this world ;" he acknowledged 
the authority of the Jewish magistrates ; 
he paid for his own person the tribute to 
the Romans ; he refused in more than one 
instance to assume the office of judge in 
matters of legal controversy ; he strictly 
limited the object of his own precepts 
and authority to religion and morals ; he 
denounced no temporal punishment ; he 
promised no temporal rewards ; he took 
up man as a governable being, where the 
human magistrate is compelled to leave 
him, and supplied both precept of virtue 
and motive for practising it, such as no 


Other moralist or legislator ever attempt- 
ed to introduce. Fourth, the burdensome 
duties of positive rites, minute formalities, 
and expensive sacrifices. All these had 
a tendency, not only to establish and 
maintain the separation of the Jews from 
all other nations, but in process of time 
had been mistaken by the scribes, and 
Pharisees, and lawyers, and probably by 
the body of the people, for the substance 
of religion. All the rites were abolished 
by Christ, or (as Paul expresses it) 
"were nailed to his cross." You will 
recollect that I am now speaking of 
Christianity, not as the scheme of re- 
demption to mankind from the conse- 
quences of original sin, but as a system of 
morality for regulating the conduct of 
men while on earth ; and the most stri- 
king and extraordinary feature of its char- 
acter in this respect, is its tendency and 
exhortations to absolute perfection. The 


language of Christ to his disciples is ex- 
plicit: "Be ye therefore perfect, even 
as your father in heaven is perfect" — 
and this he enjoins at the conclusion of 
that precept, so expressly laid down, and 
so unanswerably argued, to "love their 
enemies, to bless those who cursed them, 
and pray for those who despitefully used 
and persecuted them." He seems to 
consider the temper of benevolence in 
return for injury, as constituting of itself 
a perfection similar to that of the Divine 
nature. It is undoubtedly the greatest 
conquest which the spirit of man can 
achieve over its infirmities ; and to him 
who can attain that elevation of virtue 
which it requires, all other victories over 
the evil passions must be comparatively 
easy. Nor was the absolute perfection 
merely preached by Christ as a doctrine : 
it was practised by himself throughout 
his life ; practised to the last instant of 


his agony on the cross ; practised under 
circumstances of trial, such as no other 
human being was ever exposed to. He 
proved by his own example the possibility 
of that virtue which he taught ; and al- 
though possessed of miraculous powers 
sufficient to control all the laws of nature, 
he expressly and repeatedly declined the 
use of them to save himself from any 
part of the sufferings which he was able 
to endure. 

The sum of Christian morality, then, 
consists in piety to God, and benevolence 
toman : piety, manifested, not by formal, 
solenm rites and sacrifices of burnt-offer- 
ings, but by repentance, by obedience, 
by submission, by humility, by the wor- 
ship of the heart, and by benevolence ; 
not founded upott selfish motives, but 
superior even to a sense of wrong, or the 
resentment of injuries. Worldly pru- 
dence is scarcely noticed among all the 


instructions of Christ: the pursuit of 
honors and riches, the objects of ambition 
and avarice, are strongly discountenanced 
in many places: and an undue solicitude 
about the ordinary cares of life is occa- 
sionally reproved. Of worldly prudence, 
there are rules enough in the Proverbs 
of Solomon, and in the compilations of 
the son of Sirach ; Christ passes no cen- 
sure upon them, but he left what I call 
the selfish virtues where he foxuid them. 
It was not to proclaim common-place 
morality that he came down from Heaven ; 
his commands were new \ that his disci- 
ples should **love one another,*' that they 
should love even strangers, that they 
should ** love their enemies." He pre- 
scribed barriers against all the maleficient 
passions ; he gave as a law, the utmost 
point of perfection of which human pow- 
ers are susceptible, and at the same time 
allowed degrees of indulgence and relaxa- 


tion to human frailty, proportioDed to the 
power of any individual. An eminent 
writer in support of Christianity (Dr. 
Paley) expresses the opinion, that the 
direct object of the Christian revelation 
was to supply motives^ and not rides — 
sanctions^ and not precepts ; and he strong- 
ly intimates that, independent of the pyir- 
pose of Christ's atonement and propitia- 
tion for the sins of the world, the only 
object of his mission upon earth was to 
reveal a future state, ** to bring life and 
immortality to light." He does not ap- 
pear to think that Christ promulgated 
any new principle of morality; and he 
positively asserts that ** morality, neither 
in the gospel nor in any other book, can 
be a subject of discovery, because quali- 
ties of actions depend entirely on their 
effects, which eflfects, must all along have 
been the subjects of human experience." 
To this I reply in the express words of 


Jesus: **A new commandment I give 
you, that ye love one another;'* and I 
add, that this command explained, illus- 
trated, and dilated, as it was by the whole 
tenor of his discourses, and especially by 
the parable of the good Samaritan, ap- 
pears to me to be not only entirely new, 
but, in the most rigorous sense of the 
word, a discovery in morals ; and a dis- 
covery, the importance of which to the 
happiness of the human race, as far ex- 
ceeds any discovery in the physical laws 
of nature, as the soul is superior to the 
body. If it be objected that the principles 
of benevolence toward enemies, and the 
forgiveness of injuries, may be found not 
only in the Old Testament, but even in 
some of the heathen writers, particularly 
the discourses of Socrates. I answer, 
that the same may be said of the immor- 
tality of the soul, and of the rewards and 
punishments of a future state. The doc- 



trine was not more a discovery than the 
precept ; hut their connexion with each 
other, the authority with which they 
were taught, and the miracles by which 
they were enforced, belong exclusively to 
the mission of Christ. Attend particular- 
ly to the miracle recorded in the second 
chapter of Luke, as having taken place 
as the birth of Jesus ; when the angel of 
the Lord said to the shepherds : *» Fear 
nor, for behold 1 bring you glad tidings 
of great joy, which shall be to all people ; 
for unto you is bom this day in the city 
of David, a Savior, who is Christ the 
Lord." In these words the character of 
Jesus, as a Redeemer, was announced ; 
but the historian adds — "And suddenly 
there was with the angel a multitude of 
the heavenly host praising God and sing- 
ing, glory to God in the highest, and on 
earth peace, good will toward men." 
These words, as I understand them, an- 


noonced the moral precept of benevolence 
M explicitly for the object of Christ^s ap- 
pearance, as the preceding words had 
declared the purpose of redemption. It 
in related in the life of the Roman dra- 
matic poet, Terence, that when one of 
the personages of his comedy, the " Self- 
Tormentor," the first time uttered on 
the stage the line ** Homo sum, humani 
nil alienum puto" (1 am a man, nothing , 
human is uninteresting to me), a universal 
shout of applause burst forth from the 
wliole audience, and that in so great a 
multitude of Romans, and deputies from 
tho nations, their subjects and allies, there 
was not one individual but felt in his 
lie art this noble sentiment. Yet how 
fuoblo and defective it is, in comparison 
with tho Christian command of charity 
as unfolded in the discoveries of Christ 
and onlargeil u{X)n in the writings of his 
a]HMtles. The heart of man will always 



respond witli rapture to this sentiment 
when there is no selfish or unsocial pas- 
sion to oppose it: hut the command to 
lay it down as the great and fundamental 
rule of conduct for human life, and to 
suhdue and sacrifice all the tyrannical 
and selfish passions to preserve it, this is 
the peculiar and unfieiding glory of Chris- 
tianity; this is the conquest over our- 
selves, which, without the aid of a merci- 
ful Qod, none of us can achieve, and which 
it was worthy of his special interposition 
to enable us to accomplish. 

From your affectionate Father, 

John Quinct Adavs. 



The whole system of Cliristiamty 
appears to have been set ibrth by its Di- 
vine Author in his sermon on the mount, 
recorded in the fifth, sixth, and seventh 
chapters of Matthew. I intend hereafter 
to make them the subject of remarks, 
much more at large ; for the present, I 
confine myself merely to general views. 
What I would impress upon your mind, 
is infinitely important to the happiness 
and virtue of your life, as the general 
spirit of Christianity, and the duties 
which results from it. In my last letter, 
I showed you, from the very words of 
our Savior, that he commanded his dis- 


ciples to aim at absolute perfection, and 
that this perfection consisted in self-sub- 
jugation and brotherly love, in the com- 
plete conquest of our own passions, and 
in the practice of benevolence to our fel- 
low-creatures. Among the Grecian sys- 
tems of moral philosophy, that of the 
Stoics resembles the Christian doctrine 
in the particular of requiring the total 
subjugation of the passions; and this 
part of the Stoic principles was adopted 
by the academies. You will find the 
question discussed with all the eloquence 
and ingenuity of Cicero, in the fourth of 
his Tusculan disputations, which I advise 
you to read and meditate upon. You 
will there find proved, the duty of sub- 
duing the passions. It is sometimes ob- 
jected that this theory is not adapted to 
tiie infirmities of human nature ; that it 
is not made for a being so constituted 
M man; that an earthen vessel is not 




formed to dash itself against a rock ; that 
in yielding to the impulses of the pas- 
sions, man only follows the dictates of 
his nature ; that to snbdne them entirely, 
is an effort beyond his powers. The 
weakness and frailty of our nature, it is 
not possible to deny — it is too strongly 
tested by all human experience, as well 
as by the whole tenor of the Scriptures ; 
but the degree of weakness must be 
measured by the efforts to overcome it, 
and not by indulgence to it. Once admit 
weakness as an argument to forbear ex- 
ertion, and it results in absolute impo- 
tence. It is also very inconclusive rea- 
soning to infer, that because perfection is 
not absolutely to be obtained, it is there- 
fore not to be sought. Human excellence 
consists in approximation to perfection : 
and the only means of approaching to 
any term, is by endeavoring to obtain the 
term itself. With these convictiaM up- 


on the mind — with a sincere and honest 
eSoTt to practise npon them, and with 
the aid of a divine blessing, which is 
promised to it, the approaches to perfec- 
tion may at least be so great, as to nearly 
answer all the ends which absolute per- 
fection itself conld attain. All exertion, 
therefore, is virtue ; and if the tree be 
judged by its fruit, it is certain that all 
the most virtuous characters of heathen 
antiquity, were the disciples of the Stoic 
doctrine. But let it even be admitted 
that a perfect command of the passions 
is unattainable to human infirmity, it will 
still be true, that the degree of moral ex- 
cellence possessed by any individual, is 
in exact proportion to the degree of con- 
trol he exercises over himself. Accord- 
ing to the Stoics, all vice was resolvable 
into folly: according to the Christian 
principle it is all the efiect of weakness. 
In order to preserve the dominion of our 


own passions, it behooves ns to be con- 
stantly and strictly on our gnard against 
the influence and infection of the pasnons 
of others. This cantion above all is neces- 
sary to youth ; and I deem it indispensable 
to enjoin it upon you — because, as kind- 
ness and benevolence comprise the whole 
system of Christian duties, there may 
be, and often is, great danger of falling 
into errors and vice, merely for the want 
of energy to resist the example or entice- 
ment of others. On this point the true 
character of Christian morality appears 
to me to have been misunderstood by 
some of its ablest and warmest defenders. 
In Paley's ** View of the Evidences 
of Christianity," there is a chapter up- 
on the morality of the gospel, the gene- 
ral tenor, of which (as of the whole 
work) is excellent, but in which there is 
the follovnng passage : ** There are two 
opposite descriptions of character, under 


which mankind may generally be class- 
ed : the one possesses vigor, firmness, 
resolution, is active and daring, quick in 
its sensibilities, jealous of its fame, eager 
in its attachments, inflexible of its pur- 
poses, violent in its resentment ; the other 
meek, yielding, complying, forgiving, not 
prompt to act, but willing to suffer, silent 
and gentle under rudeness and insults, 
suing for reconciliation, where others 
would demand satisfaction ; giving away 
to the pushes of impudence, conceding and 
indulgent to the prejudices, the wrong- 
headedness, the intractability of others, 
with whom it has to deal. The former 
of these characters is, and ever has been, 
the favorite of the world ; it is the char- 
acter of great men — there is a dignity in 
it which commands respect. The latter 
is poor-spirited, tame, and abject. Yet, 
80 it has happened, that with the founder 
of Christianity, the latter is the subject of 


his commendation, his precepts, his ex- 
ample, and that the former is so in no 
part of its composition. Dr. Paley in 
this place adopts the opinion of Soame 
Jennings, whose essay on the ** Internal 
Evidences of Christianity'* he strongly 
recommends ; hat I can not consider it 
either as an accurate and discerning de- 
lineation of character, nor as exhibiting 
a correct representation of Christian prin- 
ciples. The founder of Christianity did 
indeed pronounce distinct and positive 
blessings upon the **poor in spirit,'* 
which is by no means synonymous with 
the " poor-spirited ;" and upon the meek; 
but in what part of the gospel did Dr. 
Paley find him countenancing by ** com- 
mendation, by precept or example, the 
tame and abject" ? The character which 
Christ assumed upon earth, was that of 
a Lord and Master ; it was in that char- 
acter his disciples received and acknowl- 


edged him. The obedience he required 
was unbounded, infinitely beyond that 
which was ever claimed by the most ab- 
solute earthly sovereign of his subjects : 
never for one moment did he recede from 
this authoritative station ; he preserved 
it in washing the feet of his disciples ; 
he preserved it in answer to the officer 
who struck him for this very deportment 
to the high-priest ; he preserved it m the 
agony of his ejaculation on the cross, 
"Father, forgive them, for they know not 
what they do." He expressly declared 
himself, ** the Prince of this world, and 
the Son of God." He spoke as one hav- 
ing authority, not only to his disciples, 
but to his mother, to his judges, to Pilate 
the Roman governor, to John the Baptist, 
his precursor; and there is not in the 
four gospels, one act, not one word re- 
corded of him (excepting his communion 
with God), that was not a direct or im« 



plied assertion of authority. He said to 
liis disciples, ** Learn of me, for I am 
meek and lowly of heart," &cc, ; hut 
where did he ever say to them, *♦ Learn of 
me, for I am tame and abject" ? There is 
certainly nothing more strongly marked 
in the precepts and examples of Christ, 
than the principle of stubborn and inflex- 
ible resistance against the impulses of 
others to evil. He taught his disciples 
to renounce everything that is counted 
enjoyment upon earth ; ** to take up their 
cross," and to suffer ill-treatment, perse- 
cution, and death, for his sake. What 
else is the book of the "Acts of the 
Apostles," than a record of the faith- 
fulness with which these chosen ministers 
of the gospel carried these injunctions 
into execution ? In the conduct and 
speeches of Peter, John, and Paul, is 
there anything that could justly be 
called "tame or abject" ? Is there any- 


Mng indicating a resemblance to the sec- 
ond class of character into which Dr. 
Paley divides all mankind ? If there is 
a character upon historical record distin- 
guished by a bold, inflexible, tenacious, 
and intrepid spirit, it is that of Paul. It 
was to such characters only, that the 
commission to ** teach all nations,*' could 
be committed with certainty of success. 
Observe the impression of Christ, in his 
charge to Peter (a rock) : ** And upon 
this rock I will build my church, and the 
gates of hell shall not prevail against it.*' 
Dr. Paley's Christian is one of those 
drivellers, who, to use a vulgar phrase, 
can never say no, to anybody. The true 
Christian is the "Justum et tenacem 
propositi virum" of Horace, (** the man 
who is just and steady to his purpose"). 
The combination of these qualities so es- 
sential to heroic character, with those of 
meekness, lowliness of heart, and broth- 

erly love, is what constitutes that manl 
perfection of which Christ gave an ex- 
ample in his own life, and to which he 
commands his disciples to aspire. En- 
deavor, my dear son, to discipline yoor 
heart, and to govern your conduct hy 
these principles thus combined ; be meek, 
be gentle, be kindly affectionate to all 
mankind, not excepting your enemies; 
but never be "tame or abject;" never 
give way to the pushes of impudence, or 
show yourself yielding or complying to 
prejudice, wrong-headedness, or intracta- 
bility, which would lead or draw you 
astray from the dictates of your own con- 
science, and your own sense of right : 
** till you die, let not your integrity de- 
part from you :" build your house upon 
the rock, and then let the rains descend, 
and the floods come, and the winds 
blow and beat upon that house — " it shall 
not fall, it will be founded upon a rock 


So promises your blessed Lord and 
Master, and so prays your afiectionate 

John Quinct Adams. 



The fourth and last point of view in 
which I proposed to offer you some gen- 
eral observations upon the Scriptures, 
was with reference to literature ; and the 
first remark that presents itself is, that 
the five books of Moses, are the most an- 
cient monuments of written language now 
extant in the world ; the book of Job is 
nearly of the same date, and by many of 
the Jewish and Christian commentators, 
is thought to have been written by Moses. 
The employment of alphabetical charac- 
ters to represent all the articulations of 
the human voice, is the greatest invention 
that ever was compassed by human 


genius. Plato says that ** it was the dis- 
covery of either a Grod, or a man divinely 
inspired." The E^ytians ascribed it to 
Thot, whom the Greeks afterward wor- 
shipped under the name of Hermes. 
This is, however, a fabulous origin. 
That it was an Eg^'ptian invention, there 
is little doubt ; and it was a part of that 
learning of the Egyptians, in all of which 
we are told, ** Moses was versed." 
It is probable that when Moses wrote, 
this act was, if not absolutely recent, of 
no very remote invention. There was 
but one copy of the law written in a 
book. It was deposited in the ark of the 
covenant, and was read aloud once in 
seven years, to all the people, at their 
general assembly in the feast of taber- 
nacles. There was one other copy of 
the law, written upon stone, erected on 
Mount £bal. It does not appear thait 
there existed any other copies. In pro- i 


cess of time the usage of reading it tlmg 
must have been dropped, and the monu- 
ment upon Mount Ebal must have per- 
ished ; for in the reign of Josiah, about 
eight hundred years afterward, the book 
of the law was found in the temple. How 
long it had been lost is not expressly told ; 
but from the astonishment and consterna- 
tion of Josiah upon hearing the book read, 
its contents must have been long forgot- 
ten so that scarcely a tradition of them 
remained. We are indeed told, that, 
when the ark of the covenant was de- 
posited in the temple of Solomon, there 
was nothing in the ark save the two 
tables, which Moses put therein at Horeb. 
The two tables contained not the whole 
law, but the ten commandments : the book 
of the law was therefore no longer in the 
ark, at the dedication of Solomon's tem- 
ple ; that is, about five hundred years 
after the law was given, and three hun- 

% • 



dred before the book was found by Hez- 
ekiah the higb-priest, in the eighteenth 
year of Josiah. From these circum- 
stances, as well as from the expedients 
used by Moses and Joshua for preserving 
the ceremonial law, and the repeated 
covenant between God and the people, it 
is observed that the art and practice of 
writing was extremely rare, and that 
very few of the people were even taught 
to read ; that there were few books ex- 
tant, and of those few,, only single copies; 
the art of writing, speakmg, and think- 
ing, with their several modifications of 
grammar, rhetoric, and logic, were never 
cultivated among the Hebrews, as they 
were (though not till a thousand years 
later than Moses) among the Greeks. 
Philosophical research and the spint of 
analysis appear to have belonged among 
the ancient nations, exclusively to the 
Greeks ; they studied language as a sci- 





ence, and from the discoveries they made 
in this pursuit, resulted a system of lit- 
erary ccmpositions, founded upon logical 
deductions. The language of the ancient 
writers was not constructed upon the 
foundation of abtruse science ; it partakes 
of the nature of all primitive languages, 
which is almost entirely figurative ; and 
in some degree of the character of prim- 
itive writing and hieroglyphics. We 
are not told from what materials Moees 
compiled the book of Grenesis (which 
contains the history of the creation, and 
of three hundred years succeeding it, and 
which terminates three generations prior 
to the birth of Moses himself), whether 
he had it altogether from tradition, or 
whether he collected it from the more 
ancient written or printed memorials. 
The account of the creation, of the fall 
of man, and all the antediluvian part of 
the history, carries strong internal evi- 



dences of having been copied or (if I may 
express myself) translated from hiero- 
glyphic or symbolical record ; the story is 
of the most perfect simplicity, the dis- 
courses of the persons introduced, are 
given as if taken down verbatim, from 
their months, and the narrative is scarcely 
anything more than the connecting link 
of the discourses ; the genealogies are 
given with great precision ; and, this is 
one of the most remarkable peculiarities 
of the Old Testament; the rest is all 
figurative ; the rib, the garden, the tree 
of life, and of the knowledge of good and 
evil, the apple, the serpent, are all images 
which seem to indicate a hieroglyphic 
origin. All the historical books, of both 
the Old and New Testaments, retain the 
peculiar characteristics that I have no- 
ticed ; the simplicity and brevity of the 
narrative, the practice of repeating all 
diacouiBes in the identical words spoken. 


and the constant use of figurative sym- 
bolical and allegorical language. But of 
the rules of compositicm, prescribed by 
the Grecian schools, the unities of Aris- 
totle, or the congmities of figures taught 
by the Greek philologists, not a feature is 
to be seen. The Psalms are a collection 
of songs ; the Song of Solomon is a pas- 
toral poem ; the Proverbs are a collection 
of moral sentences and maxima, appa- 
rently addressed by Solomon to his son, 
with the addition of others of the same 
description; the prophetical books are 
partly historical and partly poetical — 
they contain the narrative of visions and 
revelations of the Deity to the prophets, 
who recorded them. 

In the New Testament, the four gos- 
pels and the Acts of the Apostles are 
historical — they contain memoirs of the 
life of Christ, and some of his disciples, 
and the proceedings of some of his prin- 


cipal apostles, for some years after his 
decease. The simplicity of the narra- 
tive, is the same as that of the Old Tes- 
tament ; the style in general, indicates an 
age when readmg and writing, had he- 
come more common, and hooks more mul- 
tiplied. The Epistles of Paul, are the 
productions of a mind educated in the 
learning of the age, and well versed in 
the Grecian literature ; from his history, 
it appears that he was not only capable 
of maintaining an argument with the 
doctors of the Jewish law, but of dis- 
cussing principles with the Stoic and 
Epicurean philosophers; his speech at 
Athens is a specimen of eloquence wor- 
thy of an audience in the native country 
of Demosthenes. The Apocalypse of 
John resembles, in many respects, some 
of the prophetical books of the Old Tes- 
tament; the figurative, symb(^cal, and 
allegorical language ai these books showa 


a nnge of imaginatioii suitable only to 
be tbe record of dreamt and Yiaioiis— 
tbeir langaage is in many parts ineKpli- 
cably obscure. It has been, and it is to 
this day, among the follies and vices of 
many sects of Christians, to attempt ex- 
planations of them, adapted to sectarisn 
purposes snd opinions. The style of none 
of the books, of either the Old or New 
Testament, affords a general model for 
imitation to a writer of the present age ; 
the principles and rules for compoeition 
derived from Greek and Roman schools, 
and the example of their principal wri- 
ters, have been so generally adopted in 
modem literature, that the Scriptures — 
differing so essentially from them— could 
not be imitated without great affectation ; 
but for pathos of narrative ; for the se- 
lections of incidents that go directly to 
the heart ; for the picturesque of charac- 
ter and manner; the selection of dieum- 


Stances that mark the individuality of 
persons ; for copiousness, grandeur, and 
sublimity of imagery ; for unanswerable 
cogency and closeness of reasoning ; and 
for irresistible force of persuasion : no 
book in the world deserves to be so un- 
ceasingly studied, and so profoundly med- 
itated up>on as the Bible. 

I shall conclude here the series of let- 
ters which I proposed, about two years 
ago, to write you for the purpose of ex- 
horting you to search the Scriptures, and 
of pointing out to your consideration the 
general points of application ; with a 
view to which, I thought this study 
might be made profitable to the improve- 
ment and usefulness of your future life. 
There are other and particular points to 
which I may hereafter occasionally in- 
vite your attention. I am sensible how 
feeble and superficial what I have writ- 
ten has been, and every letter has con- 


vinced me more and more of my own in- 
competency to the adequate performance 
of the task I bad assumed ; but my 
great object was to sbow you the import- 
ance of devoting your own faculties to 
this pursuit ; to read the Bible is of itself 
a laudable occupation and can scarcely 
fail of being a useful employment of time ; 
but the habit of reflecting upon what you 
have read is equally essential as that of 
reading itself, to give it all the efficacy 
of which it is suceptible. I therefore 
recommend to you to set apart a small 
portion of every day to read one or more 
chapters of the Bible, and always read it 
with reference to some particular train 
of obser\'ation or reflection. In these 
letters, I have suggested to you four 
general ones. Considering the Scrip- 
tures as Divine Revelations ; as histori- 
cal records ; as a system of morals ; and 
as literary compositions. There are 


many other points of view in which they 
may be subjects of useful investigation. 
As an expedient for fixing your attention, 
make it also a practice for some time, to 
minute down in writing your reflections 
upon what you read from day to day ; 
you may perhaps at first find this irk- 
some, and your reflections scanty and un- 
important, but they will soon become 
both easy and copious. Be careful of all 
not to let your reading make you a ped- 
ant, or a bigot ; let it never puff* you up 
with pride or a conceited opinion of your 
own knowledge, nor make you intolerant 
of the opinions which others draw from 
the same source, however different from 
your own. And may the merciful Crea- 
tor, who gave the Scriptures for our in- 
struction, bless your study of them, and 
make them to you *^ fruitful of good 
works." Your affectionate Father, 

John Quinct Adams. 

[lit 1840, Mr. MosoAN, the pretent le c re Ufj of 
state of New York, occupied a teat in Congreas next 
to that of Mr. Adams, several jaang ladies in Mr. 
Ooi.s'8 district had requested Mr. Aoabis's aato> 
graph. lu complying widi that request Mr. Adams 
added the following poem, a copy of which Mr. 
MoaoAN obtained. Mr. Adams, be it remembered, 
when this spirited poem was written, had attainad 
his 74th year.] 


*• Mm wanto but little bar* Mew, 
Nor wauU that little lone ." 

OotdmUkU Hermk. 


*' Mnn wants but little here below, 

Nor wants Uiat litde long.** 
Tis not with m« exactly so — 

Rut 't is so in the song. 
My wants are many, and, if told. 

Would muster many a score ; 
And were each wish a mint of gold, 

I stUl should l<mg for more. 

What first I want is daily bread, 

And canvas-backs and wine, 
And all the realms of nature spread 

Before me when I dine : 
Four courses scarcely can provide 

My appetite to quell, 
Wim four choice cooks from Famee bedde^ 

To droM my dinner well. 



What next I want, at heary coet^ 

Is elegant attire — 
Black sable furs for winter's frost* 

And silks for summer's fire, 
And Cashmere shawls and BrusselB lace 

My bosom's front to deck, 
And diamond rings mj hands to grace. 

And rubies for m j neck. 


And then I want a mansion fidr, 

A dwelling-house in style, 
Four stories high, for wholesome air, 

A massive marble pile : 
With halls for banquets and for balls 

All furnished rich and fine ; 
With stabled studs in fifty stalls, 

And cellars for my wine. 


I want a garden and a park 

My dwelling to surround — 
A thousand acres (bless the mark f) 

With walls encompassed round. 
Where flocks may range and herds may low, 

And kids and lambkins play — 
And flowers and fruits conuningled grow, 

All Eden to display. 


I want, when summer's foliage fa]]% 

And autumn strips the trees, 
A house within the city's walls. 

For comfort and for ease — 
But here, as space is somewhat teant^ 

And acres rather rare. 
My house in town I only want 

To ocenpy a square. 



I want a steward, buder, eooki, 

A coachman, footman, groom% 
A library of well-bound bodu^ 

And picture-gamiahed rooma— 
Correggioa, Mafrdalen. and Mi^^ 

The Matron of the chair — 
Qoido'a flaet^ouraea in dieir tdi^t, 

And Claudee^ at least a pair. 


I want a cabinet profuse 

Of medals, coins, and gems ; 
A printing-press, for private use, 

Of fifty thousand emu. 
And plants, and minerals, and sheila '-> 

Worms, insects, fishes, birds. 
And every beast on eardi that dwelli 

In solitude or herds. — 


I want a board of bundsbed plate, 

Of silver and of gold — 
Tureens of twenty pounds in weight, 

With sculpture's richest mould — 
Plateaus wiu chandeliers and lamp** 

Plates, dishes, all the same, 
And porcelain vases with the itunpa 

Of Sevres, Angouleme. 


And maples of fair glossy stain 

Must torm my ehamber<Uwn^ 
And carpets of the Wilton grain 

Must cover all my floors ; 
My walls widi tapestry bedecked 

Must never be outdone, 
And damask curtains must pn)taek 

Their colon £rom thfi ran. 




And mirrors of the largest pane 

From Venice m\ist be brought, 
And sandal- wood and bamboo-cane 

For chairs and tables bought ; 
On all the mantelpieces, clocks 

Of thrice-gilt bronze must stand, 
And screens of ebony and box 

Invite the stranger's hand. 


I want — (who does not want ?) — a wife, 

Affectionate and fair, 
To solace all the woes of life. 

And all its joys to share — 
Of temper sweet, of yielding will. 

Of firm yet placid mind — 
With all my faults to love me still. 

With sentiment refined. 


And as Time's car incessant runs, 

And Fortune fills my store, 
I want of daughters and of sons 

From eight to half a score : 
I want (alas ! can mortal dare 

Such bliss on earth to crave ?) 
That all the girls be chaste and fair— 

The boys sJl wise and brave. 


And when my bosom's darling sings 

With melody divine, 
A pedal-harp of many strings 

Must with her voice combine : 
A piano, exquisitively wrought, 

Must open stand, apart, 
That all my daughters may be taught 

To win the stranger's heart 



Bly wife and daughters will deaira 

Refrenhment fnim perfumea, 
Coametic for the rkin reqaine^ 

And artificial blooms : 
Tbc ciret, fragrance shall dlspenae 

And treasured sweets return — 
Colonte revive the flagging aenie^ 

And smoking amber bum. 


And when, at night, my weary head 

Begins to droup and doze, 
A southern chamDer holds my bed 

Fur nature's soft repose : 
With blankotm counteruanes, and shee^ 

Mattress and bed of down, 
And comfortables for my feet. 

And pillows for my crown. 


I want a warm and faithful friend 

To cheer the adverse hour. 
Who ne'er to flatter will descend 

Nor bond the knee to power — 
A friend to chide me when Fm wrong, 

My inmodt soul to see. 
And that my friendship provea aa strong 

Fur him as his for me. 


1 want a kind and tender heart 

For others' wants to feel, 
A soul secure from Fortune's dar^ 

And bosom armed with steel — 
To bear divine chastisement's rod, 

And mingling; in my plan. 
Submission to the will of God 

With chazity to man. 



1 want a keen, observing eye — 

An ever-listening ear, 
1 he truth through all disguise to spy, 

And wisdom's voice to hetu* : 
A tongue to speak at virtue's need. 

In Heaven's sublimest strain. 
And lips the cause of man to plead. 

And never plead in vain. 


I want uninterrupted health 

Throughout my long career ; 
And sti'eams of never-failing wealth 

To scatter far and near, 
The destitute to clothe and feed, 

Free bounty to bestow — 
Supply the helpless orphan's need 

And sooth the widow's wo. 


I want the genius to conceive, 

The talents to unfold 
Designs, the vicious to retrieve — 

The virtuous to uphold : 
Inventive power, combining skill, 

A persevering soul. 
Of human hearts to mould the will 

And reach from pole to pole. 


I want the seals of power and place, 

The ensigns of command — 
Charged by the people's unbought grace. 

To rule my native land : 
Nor crown, nor sceptre, would I ask, 

But from my country's will, 
By day, by night, to ply the task 

Her cup of bliss to fill. 





I want the voice of hooeit pniaa 

To fo'.low me behind, 
Aad to b^ thoashc \m future dqra 

The frirad of hanun kind— • 
That aftcr-acea. M they riae^ 

E^ulciiig may pmclium. 
!■ chond union to the skiea, 

Their ble«rlugs on my name. 


Thcae are the wants of mortal man : 

1 can not want them long. 
For life itM*If ii but a span 

Anil earthly bllM a sonff. 
My last i^at want, abaoraoig all, 

I^ when b*-neath the sod. 
And aammoned to my final call, 

'ilie mercjf of aiy Hod. 


And oh ! while circles in my Tehia 

i)( life the purple stream. 
And yet a frairnient email remaina 

Of narure'fl tran^dent dream. 
My soul in humble h<^>e unaoured, 

Forset not thou to pray. 
That this thy want may be prepared 

To meet the Judgment-dtof !